For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Chris Dennis to break down the action. Dennis will be checking in throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Dennis spent 10 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including the past two as an assistant coach under Randy Carlyle and Peter Horachek. Prior to that he was the Maple Leafs' video coach for eight seasons.
When Montreal Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said after Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning that he thought his team didn't have to change much to get a win in the series, Chris Dennis agreed with him.
Dennis saw Montreal stick with its game plan to win 2-1 in Game 5 on Saturday.
"They're just going in now," Dennis said of the Montreal's scoring chances. "They're still low-scoring games but now they're just getting the bounces and going in. I think they've stuck with it and I think Montreal is playing well."
With Game 6 of the series Tuesday, Dennis said Montreal needs to continue playing the same way if it wants to force Game 7 in the best-of-7 series. That includes more of the strong play Montreal has gotten from its top line of Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher and Max Pacioretty; the past two games has seen them combine for two goals, five points, 16 shots on goal and a plus-8 in shot-attempts for/against, according to War-on-ice.com.
"Their first line has been excellent with Plekanec, Gallagher and Pacioretty," Dennis said. "Can they continue that? … Tampa is going to have last change at home so [coach Jon] Cooper is going to be able to dictate the matchups a little more to his liking. … I want to see Montreal continuing doing what they're doing. They're going to give themselves another chance to win if they keep playing like this."
The Lightning will have extra time to reflect on what's gone wrong the past two games, but Dennis said it shouldn't affect them adversely. Though they have a young core group, Dennis pointed to some veterans that should the keep those players focused on what's coming next, not what happened.
"I would think that Tampa shouldn't be too worried right now," he said. "They should feel good. … Being up 3-0 and that potential of the what-ifs, what if we let it slip away. But you can't focus on that. They've got to focus on the fact that they have one game, its Game 6, it's Tuesday night.
"It's not [Steven] Stamkos' first trip here, [Brian] Boyle has been there before, [Brenden] Morrow, those guys. They know how to handle that and hopefully they can keep the team even-keeled."
Cooper's leadership also will provide stability. The Lightning coach didn't sound much different speaking after Game 5 as he did during the regular season.
"That's your goal as a coach, especially the leader of your group, to try and keep that even keel and not to get too high on the highs and not get too low on the lows," Dennis said. "That's your job, to try to maintain a certain level of consistency; if he's getting all amped up or panicking, that's not going to help his team. He knows what he's doing and he's a good coach."
Dennis said one move Cooper made that he liked was going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Game 5 because it allowed Cooper to move Stamkos around, even shifting him from center to the wing. The result was Stamkos scoring his second goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the third period.
Stamkos has struggled during the postseason. His Game 5 goal was his second in 12 playoff games, and he was held without a shot on goal in Games 3 and 4 against the Canadiens, the second time since his rookie season that's happened.
"I'm sure it's a combination of both Montreal keying on him a little bit, and him wanting to do too much or wanting to help the team out and maybe putting too much pressure on himself," Dennis said. "Of the games I've watched in this series that [Game 5] was one of his better ones."
Dennis said the Lightning continuing with the 11 forward/seven defensemen game plan could create matchup problems for the Canadiens.
"It's how you feel comfortable running your bench," he said. "You've got to feel comfortable. … The way he rotated around the forwards, Stamkos going to the wing and back to center, it's an interesting challenge for Michel Therrien to have to deal with."
Whatever lineup the Lightning use, Dennis said the key for them in Game 6 is to keep pushing the attack.
"Make sure they're skating and moving the puck and playing their game, not getting tight, not trying to play a tight defensive game and win 1-0," Dennis said. "They've got to play their game; they've got to get pucks to the net, guys flying, supporting the puck and moving through the neutral zone with speed. If they can do that to start the game, get their legs going, I think Montreal will have their hands full."